“Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death” (Proverbs 11:4).
This is actually yesterday’s proverb, finished today. It caught my attention yesterday morning because we are going through the Book of Job in our Wednesday Bible Study.
A great error of Job’s friends was in their presentation of the law of retribution. It could perhaps be summed up thus:
- If you are evil, bad things will happen to you.
- If you are good, good things will happen to you.
- Thus, if bad things are happening, you must be evil and God is judging (conversely, if good things are happening, you must be good and God is blessing).
Obviously, the first two statements are true. God will judge evil — eventually. If you have been justified in Christ Jesus, you will receive abundant blessings — one day. The problem is not with the law, but that they made it temporal (active in the “here and now”).
The Bible never guarantees blessings or judgment immediately. Ephesians 1 says we’ve been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Some people seem to think that means all physical blessings in earthly places — NOW.
Often, physical blessings come. God designed the human “machine” to function best when we live righteously, so when we do, things will generally go better — but there are no guarantees. In fact, it is certain we will have trials (James 1, etc). In addition, Scriptures such as Psalm 73 teach that often things seem to go very well for the wicked — in this life. Thus, the third statement above is deeply flawed, relying on the false assumption that you are experiencing retribution for your goodness or evil right now.
So where does this verse come in? Some characterise Proverbs as teaching “here and now” retribution. Certainly, Proverbs does emphasise the benefits of obedience and wisdom, and the pitfalls of wickedness and foolishness. Many of those benefits and pitfalls are for this life — but Proverbs is not as simplistic as some claim.
This Proverb is one that indirectly refutes a temporal law of retribution. It suggests someone might have riches right up until wrath falls. All may seem well with a wicked person, he may “have it all,” and people may even say God is blessing him. He may have family, fame, money, health, everything the world values — but neither his money nor anything else will profit in “the day of wrath.”
Some say if you would just obey God, pray enough, and have enough faith, your problems would go away. God blesses the righteous, they say, so if you don’t have perfect health or material riches, the problem is you. Thousands of years later, they recycle the temporal law of retribution, for Job was told all those same things. Some teachers, recognising the problem Job presents for their doctrine, even blame him for his problems (just like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar blamed him) — but God called him “upright” (Job 1:1, 8) and said his problems were “without cause” (Job 2:3), and God was angry with those men (Job 42:7-9) for the things they said.
We know God chastens His disobedient children. But it is wrong to assume that those who suffer necessarily brought it on themselves by any particular action. We cannot assume someone’s current circumstances are driven by an unknown spiritual problem. The righteous may have sorrows and trials, and the wicked may have apparent blessings.
The wicked may have riches right up until the day of wrath, but those riches will fail them. The righteous may lack many things the wicked possess, but when the day comes, they will have the one thing, the righteousness which God gives, that will deliver.